Our journey began in Prague, a city steeped in the history and culture of Eastern Europe. The cobblestoned streets of this 1,100-yearold city of 1.2 million people are lined with historic buildings and narrow alleyways and there is something new around every corner. A visit to the grounds of the ninth-century Hradčany Castle and a walk across the Charles Bridge were well worth braving on a minus six-degree morning. The next part of our journey took us to Nuremberg, which was perhaps the one visit I was most excited about, knowing the reputation of the famous Nuremberg Christmas markets for being one of the largest in Germany, with over 200 stalls. Little did I know that the markets got better as the cruise continued! Before visiting the markets we took a city tour to view the medieval fortifications and Kaiserburg, the Imperial castle. Ninety percent of Nuremberg’s old town was destroyed during WWII but to see the way in which it has been restored is quite breathtaking.
The markets themselves are quite overwhelming and it is hard to know where to start. If you are a Christmas ornament fan be prepared to take an extra suitcase. The next part of our journey took us to Regensburg. Dating back to 500BC, it is known as one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities and was spared from bombing during WWII. After a guided walk we enjoyed some free time exploring the Christmas markets and partaking in some of the gluhwein and chocolate waffles that some of the stalls were providing. After cruising on to Passau we explored this historic old town where the Danube, Inn and Ilz Rivers converge. The beautiful Baroque-era St Stephens Cathedral is well worth a visit and if you time your visit right you can hear the world’s largest church organ, with 17,974 pipes, playing. The next day we opted for a day tour to Salzburg where we visited the church where the famous Christmas carol, Silent Night, was first performed, and listened to a performance of it on acoustic guitar. It was a truly memorable event and captured the true essence of this well-known hymn. Another highlight of our visit to Salzburg was seeing some of the locations from the iconic movie, The Sound of Music. It helped that our tour guide was also a fan and after a tour of Salzburg city and a spot of shopping we visited the abbey where Maria von Trapp started her journey. It was the perfect way to conclude a lovely day. The next day saw us cruising down the Wachau Valley to the town of Melk and its restored abbey which is one of Europe’s great sights. It was really a wonderful way to see the sights, relaxing in the ships lounge with a hot chocolate just watching castles, small villages and iconic views passing by every few minutes.
Our arrival in Vienna was greeted with some sadness, knowing that our journey was almost at an end, as well some excitement because we were attending a Viennese concert that evening. It was something that I had been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. Our free day in Vienna was spent exploring the shops and having a final visit to the Christmas markets. I have to admit that the markets in Vienna were the best in terms of variety and quality of product and ease of access. It was a great chance to top up the suitcases (if there was still space) before we started our journey home. I left this cruise with a sense of sadness at leaving a group of people I had enjoyed sharing the experience with, and amazement at the sights and experiences of the journey. Being able to arrive in the middle of all the amazing places we visited and have the luxury of the ship to return to each day was the ultimate way to explore. And the wonderful food, wine and service we enjoyed on our Avalon Waterways cruise were second to none.
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